12 Most Helpful College Financial Aid Tips
If you’re the parent of a college-bound child, you know that like everything else these days, a college education is anything but cheap. And if you find yourself lost in the maze of financial aid assistance, banging into dead ends and having to constantly change your direction, you need help!
If you aren’t financially prepared for this stage of life, the hair on the back of your neck probably stood up when you realized just how much a good college education currently costs. You know you need help, but the financial aid process can be overwhelming and stressful. Couple that with the uncertainty of how you’ll react to your “baby” fleeing the nest and you’ve got a recipe for an emotional meltdown.
That’s where I come in. I’ve had the pleasure of helping many parents through the intimidating process of financial aid and am excited to share my 12 most helpful tips.
1. There’s no time like now
Most families who have been through the financial aid process will say they should have started the process sooner. Even in high school, there are important steps you can take to prepare for college. If you’ve already graduated high school, start the process now because scholarships are snatched up quickly, and you’ll want to have your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) submission ready by early January to ensure your place in federal, state, and school financial aid queues.
2. Do it right the first time
Fill out your FAFSA carefully and submit it correctly. If your application contains errors or incomplete responses, it will be returned to you. The correction process could take weeks that will move you further back in the financial aid queue. Since most need-based financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, these few weeks could have a serious impact on your financial aid package.
3. Save money for college
While family assets are a factor in financial aid eligibility, it still makes sense to save for college. In other words, your savings will reduce the amount of financial aid you can receive, but not by much. More importantly, you’ll be expected to contribute some amount of money toward college, and it’s cheaper to use savings than to take out private student loans or borrow against credit cards or home equity.
4. Make it a family affair
The federal government financial aid programs were designed to help families pursue their college dreams and reward those that have more than one dependent student enrolled in college at the same time. In fact, your expected family contribution may drop as much as 50% if more than one family member is attending college.
If you’re not happy with the financial aid packages you’re offered, negotiate. The final student aid packages are developed by school financial aid officers, and school officials may not fully understand your financial situation. Talk to them. Ask them how they arrived at the final numbers. Help them understand your position. Each school’s financial aid package may be different, so don’t give up until you’ve tried them all.
6. It’s never too early
Start looking for scholarships and grants, apply for work-study as soon as possible, and don’t stop looking until graduation looms near. Your financial situation or academic record could change over the years, and these changes could have an impact on your financial aid eligibility. Free money for money — scholarships, grants, and fellowship —is awarded for a variety of reasons, not just financial need or GPA, so you may already be eligible for more than you think.
7. Don’t make assumptions
Just about every family is eligible for at least some type of financial aid, even those families who think they earn too much to qualify or who don’t think there are financial aid options available to them. Fill out the FAFSA, and let the Department of Education determine the amount of financial aid you’re eligible to receive. You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA in order to be eligible for any type of federal financial aid.
8. Set your first focus low
Focus first on the lowest-cost financial aid: scholarships, grants, and work-study. These forms of financial aid cost you nothing because they don’t have to be repaid. If scholarships and grants aren’t enough to pay for college, look next to low-cost federal student loans. Avoid high-cost financing, such as home equity loans and credit cards. Not only do these lines of credit carry a high rate of interest, they also require immediate repayment and can jeopardize your creditworthiness and financial status.
9. Aim high
Don’t turn your back on your dream school just because it’s expensive. Your expected family contribution (EFC) is based on your financial situation but can vary from school to school, depending on whether the school is using your federally calculated EFC or its own calculation of EFC. Your financial aid package is based on the cost of attendance minus your EFC, so a more expensive school with a lower EFC may actually award you a more substantial financial aid package than a less expensive school.
10. Meet all deadlines
The financial aid process can be long, and there are so many things to remember. Make photocopies of all forms and applications, and keep them in a handy file. Use a financial aid calendar to stay on top of key financial aid dates and deadlines.
11. Ask for help
Unless you’re a financial aid officer, you probably have questions about the financial aid process and the types of student aid available. Professionally trained Education Finance Advisors can answer just about any question you may have about financial aid and will be happy to guide you through your financial aid options, help you search for scholarships, and assist you in finding the best student loans for what you need.
12. Consolidate your student loans
Federal student loan consolidation is one of the smartest, most economical student loan repayment tools available. The student loan consolidation program allows you to consolidate one or more eligible federal education loans into a single new loan at a fixed-interest rate with no additional fees. For many student borrowers, a student consolidation loan extends the repayment period, resulting in lower monthly payments, plus the convenience of making a single payment each month.